June 4, 2003

New kids on the block

It is little wonder that the 50th anniversary of the Queen's Coronation was such a low-key affair. At 10.45am on Thursday morning, the truly momentous event of the year takes place - English cricket finally ordains its eighth Test venue.

Admittedly, the MCC took 211 years to admit women to its membership, but the time (101 years) and the Tests (1574) that have elapsed since Bramall Lane's one-off fixture in 1902 is impressive even by England's arcane standards. Tomorrow's fixture will be England's 806th Test in 126 years - of the other nations, only Australia (640) have topped the 400 mark. Admittedly, Australia themselves have only used seven venues (one for each city and a spare at Brisbane), but by next month they will have taken Test cricket into the hinterland, with inaugural fixtures in Darwin and Cairns.

By contrast, the five most recent additions to Test cricket (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh) have played only 68 more matches than England between them, but have already inaugurated 47 venues. India, with 19 in 365 Tests, and Pakistan, 17 in 292, have been the busiest round the building sites, although the most democratic of recent times has been South Africa, with four new venues in seven years, including two in a week (East London and Potchefstroom) last October.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. When the Riverside match finally gets underway, the mantle of the world's least up-to-date venue will pass, albeit briefly, to Australia, who played Sri Lanka at the Bellerive Oval, Hobart in December 1989. And though the Aussies were run uncomfortably close on first-innings, they were pulled out of the mire second-time round by ... Stephen Rodger Waugh, who scored an unbeaten 134, his third Test century. What price Waugh top-scoring against Bangladesh at Darwin in July? Better odds than Clem Hill repeating his matchwinning 119 of 1902, that's for sure.

If the denizens of Durham feel a little put out at being given such a low-key fixture first-up, they needn't be. The then-minnows of Sri Lanka (three times), Bangladesh (twice), Zimbabwe (twice) and, somewhat unfairly, the unfashionable Kiwis (twice) have all been the intended first victims at new grounds. And, unless their name is Bangladesh, the minnows have usually escaped a complete frying. The only nation to buck this trend has been India, who invited West Indies to join the party in Mohali in December 1994. And they soon wished they hadn't. Jimmy Adams scored 174 and 78, both not out (taking his career average after 12 Tests to 87.07) and West Indies levelled the three-Test series 1-1.

West Indies themselves have been rather busy recently, handing out international experience ahead of the 2007 World Cup. Last year it was St George's in Grenada, where New Zealand secured the draw they needed to win their first Test series in the Caribbean. Later this month, Sri Lanka arrive at Beausejour in St Lucia.

Fixture # Venue Opposition Season
Australia 62 Bellerive Oval, Hobart Sri Lanka Dec 1989
New Zealand 64 Westpac Park, Hamilton Sri Lanka Feb 1991
Zimbabwe 73 Queen's Club, Bulawayo Sri Lanka Oct 1994
India 74 Punjab CA, Mohali West Indies Dec 1994
Sri Lanka 79 Galle International New Zealand Jun 1998
Pakistan 81 Multan Cricket Stadium Bangladesh Aug 2001
Bangladesh 82 Chittagong Stadium Zimbabwe Nov 2001
West Indies 84 St George's, Grenada New Zealand Jun 2002
South Africa 86 NW Stadium, Potchefstroom Bangladesh Oct 2002
England 87 Riverside, Chester-le-Street Zimbabwe Jun 2003